The (Nearly) Unhittable Yordano Ventura


Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

This might be the 26th article I’ve written about Yordano Ventura this year, but I’m ok with it. He’s off to such a terrific start, putting up eye-popping numbers, and generally making major league hitters look silly. It seems like every time I look at Ventura’s stats, something will make my jaw drop. Today was no different.

We all know that Ventura has top-notch stuff. Anytime you can combine a fastball at 100 MPH with that changeup and that curveball, opposing hitters are going to struggle to make solid contact. Ventura has stuff that is tough to hit. Perhaps the best indicator of how unhittable a pitcher is comes from how often batters make contact on pitches they swing at in the strike zone. Typically, the easiest pitches to hit are the ones over the plate, so one would expect professional hitters to make contact on those pitches at a high rate. Indeed, the league average Z-Contact% is 87.2%.

Hitters facing Ventura have made contact on balls in the zone just 79.1% of the time.

The only American League pitcher with a lower Z-Contact% is the Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey (78%). In case you didn’t already know, Dickey is a knuckleballer, and knuckleballs are weird. If we want to exclude Dickey and his knuckleball, Ventura has the best Z-Contact% in the league, and the next closest pitcher is Max Scherzer, at 81.1%.

In other words, Ventura’s strikes are basically the most unhittable (non-knuckleball) strikes in the league, and it’s not that close. 

If we expand the search to all MLB teams, only the ridiculous Jose Fernandez tops Ventura (78.8%), and only Michael Wacha (79.9%) is closer than Scherzer. It’s absurd.

Ventura can get away with throwing so many pitches in the zone (51.6%, 13th highest Zone% in the AL) because his stuff generates so many swings-and-misses. Throwing spheres engulfed in flames will do that. It also really helps that Ventura’s been able to command his secondary offerings so well, and he’s been willing to throw them in various counts. When he mixes his pitches effectively, hitters aren’t prepared to catch up to the 101 MPH heat, and they might be too amped up to wait for the offspeed stuff.

Quite frankly, it’s just not fair.

The 2014 season is still young, and Ventura has all of 25 innings under his belt. However, what he’s doing to major league lineups is nothing short of impressive. He’s challenging hitters by throwing in the zone, and they haven’t been able to make him pay. Because his stuff has so much movement, and because he hasn’t been completely predictable with his pitch selection, Ventura has missed bats in the strike zone at a mind-bogglingly high rate. It could regress, and Ventura may need to adjust as the season progresses, but for the time being, he’s been successful, and he’s been incredibly entertaining to watch.